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An Unlikely Pair - 4

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4.

 

Having decided that what she needed in life was a stable husband and a future, Anne set about it as if it were a military operation.  She started to wear dresses and grew her hair.  She wore make-up and smiled at customers in the bakery.  Her colleagues found her a more likeable person for it and started to invite her on work nights out.  She made a few new friends and built up a rapport with the people that came into the bakery regularly.  It didn’t take long for her to put the hell-raising image behind her and to start giving off the impression of being more wifely. 

            She began to develop a relationship with her parents.  Without the obvious competition there, she started conversations with her mother and even went for the occasional drink with Cyril.  She became a suitable replacement for Jacqui, who came home less and less the more involved she became with life in London.  As a fellow adult, she felt she could get on with her parents, even starting to view them as role models.

            It was not uncommon for Anne to hear of former classmates getting engaged, or falling pregnant and moving in with their boyfriends.  There was no transition between family life and settling down – you lived with your parents and then you moved in with the man you wanted to spend the rest of your life with.  The few friends that Anne kept were getting serious with their boyfriends to different degrees, whilst she struggled to hold down a steady relationship.

Like much of Anne’s life, it is hard to establish cause and effect.  Did she struggle to keep a relationship going because she so wanted one, or was it that she was so desperate to succeed because she had so many failures?  Either way, that was the situation.  She would meet a man and usually scare him off within three weeks.  She had many ways of doing this – declaring love after a first date, discussing baby names, or just getting drunk and trying to tell them all about her family.  By actively deciding to get a man, it was condemning her to just the opposite.

Things never progressed much beyond a few dates and a couple of gropes.  It always seemed to coincide with someone else’s brilliant news, and left Anne despairing most of the time.  She turned twenty genuinely believing that she would be on the shelf forever. 

The more people settled down, the less they wanted to go out, and Anne observed her social life ebb away to virtual nothingness. When she did get out, she placed even more of an emphasis on the arrival of her Mr Right.  One glance from a gentleman at a bar and she was naming kids and decorating nurseries.  By the time she realised that they had looked away, she was so far on in her head that she sometimes forgot to be disappointed.  A chat up line would send her spinning, and she would accept it gratefully. 

“Oh thank you.  Thank you so much.  That’s really kind of you to say.  Aren’t you kind?” she would flutter upon being told that she was wearing nice shoes.

If things got as far as a date, she would ask relentless asinine questions, as if she were conducting a survey.  The questions hinted as to whether they wanted to marry, or have kids, or what their parents did for a living.  She wanted to know about income and prospects, faithfulness and sexual history.  It made her seem too intense to even have a one night stand with. 

One or two stayed around for a few weeks.  One, a young butcher named Martin, lasted two months.  They had been together for six weeks when Anne mentioned getting a flat together.  He had seemed a little bemused but had laughed the idea off.  Anne started crying and then told him that she loved him.  He panicked and told her that he loved her back, so she started circling flats in the paper and showing them to him.  It took only two weeks of this, and an invite to a family wedding, to make Martin decide to join the Army. 

People were always asking when she was going to settle down.  When relationships broke up, she would often lie and say it was her decision.  “No point in holding on forever,” said Becky from work.  She went on to have five children in five consecutive years with her new husband, who eventually cheated on her when she lost all interest in sex and ran off, leaving her with a large brood and struggling to make ends meet.  At the time, though, she appeared settled and superior, and couldn’t understand what Anne was waiting for.

            These people put a lot of undue pressure on Anne, with their confidence that their way was the only way to live.  Had Anne been down in London with her sister, she may have realised that she was still very young and could still have been almost anything she wanted to be.  But tucked away in a seaside resort in the North West, her only prospect was to find a man, and it was a task that she was far from close to achieving.

           

The Hepworth twins only ever saw each other on the occasions when Jacqui returned from London.  The question of Anne visiting was entertained by neither sister.  When Jacqui did reluctantly come home, she didn’t receive a welcome reception from her slightly younger sister.

            Any reunions reminded Anne of how much she had hated life in the shadow of her twin.  Jacqui was off experiencing the world, and each time she came home, she brought with her tales of the big city, and the weird and wonderful people she met.  Each term brought a new achievement – a well received performance, an interesting course, or a chance encounter. 

            It became traditional, at Hilary’s insistence, that the family be joined together for a meal on the first night of Jacqui’s visits back home.  The rest of the time she was free to come and go as she pleased, and she was always busy catching up.  For one night each visit, though, they were expected to behave as a family.  Jacqui would spend most of the meal sharing her news.  It wasn’t necessarily a conceited move because she was the one that had been away, and she was leading a much more interesting life than they were – even in the diluted form that she presented to them.  T

            There would reach a point in each meal, however, when everyone would realise that they weren’t paying Anne very much attention and Jacqui would ask her sister what she had been up to.

            “So how’s the bakery then?” a typical exchange would begin.

            “It’s alright,” Anne would reply, knowing that nothing she could say would match meeting a famous actor on the underground, or being invited to the opening night of a West End play by its director.  Jacqui pressed on.

            “Met any nice men?”

            It always seemed that when Jacqui came home, Anne had been recently made single, making this innocent question more contentious than it should have been. 

            “We don’t know what she keeps doing to them,” Cyril once joked at this juncture, and had received three frosty stares in return.

            Anne’s life was exhausted within two questions.  There was nothing more to say.  Everywhere she went, Jacqui was treated like a returning hero.  People were dying to hear about her and her life, and she was happy to indulge them.  They would comment to Anne about how well her sister looked, or how nice it must be to have her back, and she struggled to keep up her warm front.  She would smile her way through it, always resolving even harder than before to find a man.

 

It was the Christmas of 1978 when Anne vowed to herself that she would be engaged by the time her sister graduated.  That gave her seven months to find a man, make him fall in love with her and realise that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. 

            She went out each weekend – sometimes alone, but mainly with at least one friend – with an even more determined look in her eye, which made some men think that she was crazy.  If they seemed hesitant, she would approach them and wait for a line.  If she didn’t get one, she’d ask them if they were going to buy her a drink.  This rarely worked. 

            Anne degraded herself on many occasions in the months that followed.  Too many times she approached the same man twice on the same night, only to be told that he had turned her down only half an hour before.  She spilled drinks down herself, fell over in front of men and laughed at inappropriate moments. 

            She got too excited when a man seemed interested in her.  The anticipation was written all over her face and it was reasonable to assume that she might be a little deranged.  Three months passed and Anne didn’t even get to kiss one man.  She was struggling to stay positive, and in the end her friends felt that they had to intervene.              “Men can smell desperation,” Becky informed her during a rare night out with Anne.  She was usually looking after her brood, and was quite alarmed to see the way her friend was behaving.  “I’m surprised they don’t think you’re a prostitute.”

            “It’s not like that at all,” Anne protested, but she could already see that it was.

             “You’ll never get a man looking like you’ll die if you don’t.”

            Anne laughed it off, but inside she was devastated; she didn’t really know how not to scare a man.

 

When Anne tried to tone down her ‘craziness,’ she ended up seeming strange in a different way.  Her parents were hearing rumours that their daughter was turning into a laughing stock, and Cyril even had a quiet word with her about her behaviour. 

            “I went out with this girl before I met your mother,” he told her.  “She was called Elizabeth.  Lovely young girl – she was pretty and funny and had a lot of qualities.  I looked forward to getting to know her.  It only lasted a month, though.  Her father told me that she had said I was thinking of proposing.  Hell, that was the last thing on my mind, and I have to admit I scarpered.  We’re a fragile bunch, us men, and we’re kind of like wild animals.  We get scared if we think we’re being trapped.  Do you understand what I mean?”

            Anne knew exactly what he meant, and was humiliated as a result.  She was mindful of the advice of her father and her friend, and she decided that she had to tone it down. 

            Work nights out tended to be raucous affairs and one evening, only Becky and Anne were left standing by the time they got to their local club, ‘Stars of Morecambe.’  Many people looked and sniggered as Anne walked in, her reputation three paces in front of her.  They sat a table near the bar, looking disinterested whilst Becky scoured the room looking for the right man.

            “You play it all wrong,” she explained.  “You walk in and go for the first thing you see.  When he says no, you move to the second person.  And then the third.  You need to bide your time, make it look like you’re here for more than a husband.” 

            It took Becky an hour to give her friend the go ahead; a long hour in which Anne thought there would never be any takers.  Unexpectedly, she spotted a man looking over rather intently and felt that this was a sure-fire winner.  “Him, definitely,” she hissed excitedly.  “Make like you’re going to the toilet – give him the chance to talk to you.  You see which one?” 

            “I do,” said Anne, who felt like she might wet herself with the anticipation.  He was a good looking young man who was loitering with a couple of his friends not far from the ladies toilet.  “I need to go anyway,” she said and they both giggled.  

            She strode confidently across the room, looking as if she had no intention of stopping.  “Excuse me, love,” the man called out and Anne turned around.  He wasn’t as good looking as he had first appeared, but Anne was knocking twenty-one and didn’t have the option to be choosy.

            “Hi,” she said.  “Do I know you?” 

            “No, no, I’ve never seen you before.”

            Anne smiled.  “But you’re glad you have?” she asked as timidly as she could muster.

            “I was hoping you might ask your friend to dance with me?” he said innocently, completely unprepared for Anne’s face to crease up in the way it did.  She burst into tears, took one look at Becky and fled towards the exit.  In her haste to leave, and also due to her inebriated state, Anne clipped her heel on the top step leading to the exit and clattered down the remaining ones with tremendous force.  She hit twelve solid steps on her descent, with the speed, force and relentlessness of a fleeing drunk woman.  Those who saw the fall gasped with horror, and would be surprised later to discover that it hadn’t been a fatal accident.


            In fact, it did look much worse than it turned out to be.  Anne was out cold for several minutes, and when she came round she was surprised to find staring back at her a man who would later introduce himself as Malcolm Lizar.


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